What Happens in a ‘One Subject for the Entire Day’ Classroom?

Access and Inclusion January 21, 2018

My schooling experience in an education system that taught through rote learning convinced me that Mark Twain was right about not mixing his schooling with his education. Like me, most students from different parts of the world who went through such a system would agree that learning in schools can be boring, mostly irrelevant, stressful and forced. 

My passion to understand schools that attempt to make learning engaging and relevant in the 21st-century took me to Norway to conduct field research for my master’s thesis in an innovative upper secondary school called Sandvika Videregående Skole that had won the innovation award from the Norwegian Center for ICT in Education in 2016. With the aim of understanding the innovative use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) in teaching and learning, I embarked on an interesting research journey. Surprisingly, I got distracted from achieving my main research goal as I observed a powerful learning setting – the ‘one subject for the entire day’ system.
Since active students learn better than passive students, the school administration introduced a ‘one subject for the entire day’ system for core subjects such as Mathematics, Science, Social Science, Business Studies, Entrepreneurship and English. One school leader asserted, “If you are a teacher in a classroom for the whole day, you better be really prepared; you cannot just deliver lectures for an entire day.” This was a bold move and the administration faced some resistance in the beginning. Today, however, students and teachers love this system. A teacher told me that she travels four hours every day to teach in this school only because she loves teaching in this setting. 
After a month of fieldwork that included interviews, group discussions and class observations, I was convinced that teaching one subject a day gives teachers and students a lot of freedom and flexibility. In essence, it creates the scope for teaching skills of the 21st-century. Here is a glimpse of how this system works differently as compared to a typical 45-minute class system practiced by most of the schools in the world.
Exploring regularly beyond classrooms
Having all the time for just one subject enables teachers to vary their teaching approach. For example, the students in entrepreneurship class create their own products and ventures as part of their assignments. They visit factories, companies, stores and places relevant to their ventures after having one hour of class in the morning. This happens regularly as compared to a random field trip once a year in conventional schools. At an early age, students gain the experience of exploring the real world based on what they learn in classrooms. Through such experiential learning practices, students develop their creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and negotiation skills. “Going out there in the real world and learning regularly beyond a classroom environment would have been impossible if they had only 45 minutes per subject,” a teacher emphasizes. 
Nurturing curiosity and in-depth learning
Instead of rushing from class to class and switching their minds from taking a test to attending lectures for a different subject on the same day, students take their time and concentrate on one topic deeply for the whole day. Comparing their experience of learning in a 45 minutes per class school system to their current model, some students said that they learned better this way because they didn’t feel rushed and pressured during school hours. They added that the system made them feel curious and excited while allowing them to learn from each other through group discussions and debates throughout the day. As a result, they learn in a setting where self-confidence, self-awareness and self-motivation are part of their learning goals. 
Innovative use of ICT
When a teacher has the whole day for a subject, delivering lessons and content on a topic is not enough. It requires the teacher to create new approaches and methods of engaging students in the classroom setting. Some students from an English class said that they explored different types of social media platforms during class hours. From hosting radio shows to making short movies, they learn to work in teams and practice their creativity, communication and digital literacy skills.
After analyzing teachers’ and students’ views towards the ‘one subject for the entire day’ system, I found that autonomy plays a big role in making this system work. The school ensures the autonomy of their students and teachers through a culture of risk-taking, trust, patience, encouragement and acceptance. 
In today’s fast-changing world, encouraging self-learning, cultivating self-confidence and not disparaging students for their mistakes in the learning process is crucial to create lifelong learners. I believe that a school like Sandvika Videregående Skole sets a good example of how to create lifelong learners for a challenging world.